Aid to Refugees

Physician Emma Reich, photograph (ca. 1938) and letter (1943), BFUW Archives, Women's Library, London.


The International Federation of University Women (IFUW) stepped forward to offer assistance to academic women fleeing Germany almost immediately after the Nazi seizure of power. From 1933 until the outbreak of the Second World War, relief efforts originated in the United Kingdom. From 1933 to 1938, the BFUW provided support exclusively to women scholars. Beginning in the summer of 1938, however, the BFUW expanded its aid to cover a wider range of humanitarian measures, offering assistance to female academics of all professions seeking to escape the growing reach of the Nazi empire.


In May 1938 the BFUW established an ad hoc committee to administer refugee assistance. Erna Hollitscher, a graduate from the University of Vienna, was placed in charge of the new committee. Hollitscher, who had escaped Vienna that year, quickly became the heart and soul of the BFUW’s London-based relief operation, corresponding with more five hundred colleagues from across Europe seeking assistance.


Although this extensive correspondence has been completely preserved in the document collections of the BFUW, it is for the foreseeable future inaccessible to researchers. Until the mid- 1990s these collections were stored in the BFUW’s guesthouse, Crosby Hall. Upon its closure the complete correspondence was transferred to the University of Portsmouth, where it was housed in that university’s library. During the summer of 1990, the BFUW had their entire collections transferred to the Women’s Library in London, where they were to be stored permanently and made accessible to future researchers. Unfortunately, the transfer of the ninety-three boxes from Portsmouth to London appears to have been quite disorderly. For this reason, the collection was formally closed until further notice. To make matters more complicated, the Women’s Library itself faces closure in the wake of budget cuts recently adopted in the UK. Talks are underway to move the Women’s Library to a new location in order to secure its future.